Bags of Bran

Prokofiev and Musical Form (Warning: Subjectivity)
January 24, 2014, 11:08 pm
Filed under: Biography

Since I’ve done gone and become a dad, I now have an excuse to listen to Peter and the Wolf by Prokofiev. Before I would just do it on the sly, you know, because I didn’t want to be teased by the cool kids, but now, “hey, it’s for the baby.”

One of the interesting things about Peter and the Wolf is that Prokofiev uses different instrumentation and different arrangement to voice different characters in the story. How do you know the little bird is talking? The flute. And the duck? The oboe. The wolf? French horns. Peter? Strings. Rifle shots? Kazoo. NO! Timpani. And so forth.

If form does not communicate, how does Peter and the Wolf work?

Prokofiev makes the assumption of his audience that they are able to tell the difference between light music and scary music. I don’t know much about music theory and practice, but I can tell the difference between ominous (the wolf) and carefree (Peter). Very subjective right? I could also tell if someone jumbled up the instruments and played the little bird with a sousaphone, or the wolf on a trumpet. Or Peter on the bagpipes. It would be pretty much hilarious, and if it were intended to be a spoof, it would be a worthy one. While serving a four-year sentence in an infinitesimal university, I saw a fellow play “Flight of the Bumblebee” on a tuba, and it was amazing. He even wore a bee outfit.

Imagine someone trying to play the wolf from Peter and the Wolf on a banjo, seriously.



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